Email sent on the 17th January 2006.
Since my last email we have had lots more adventures! Last time we were in Rantambhorne staying just outside the national park. We went on a tiger safari (very early in the morning, it was freezing!) Unfortunately we did not see any tigers but plenty of other animals in their natural habitat - it was great! We met other people who were doing continuous safaris in the hope of seeing a tiger - it really was pot luck. Apparently there are 27 tigers in the park but I really think that 7am is too cold for them, it certainly was for me! The open top canter was an experience even without the tigers!
After Rantambhore we moved on to Agra. We saw the Taj Mahal - it is amazing! It really does take your breath away, and it was built out of love!! How romantic! We stayed to watch the sunset and the marble change color, it really was beautiful. We saw some other places of interest in Agra; a fort etc and most importantly a Pizza Hut!!! Of course I insisted on having dinner there, our driver Amit was disgusted! It was funny seeing an Indian take on an American chain! No dirty pig or holy cow on the menu of course, so that ruled out my fav pepperoni! Never mind vegetarian pizza made a great change from curry!
The next day we were due to see some of Agra and then bid farewell to our driver and get the train from Agra to Varanasi. Our driver rather upfront asked for his tip at the beginning of the day claiming to have run out of money. We gave him the tip me and Ad had agreed on (we had spoken to other people and gauged the average and then added some). He went mad! Demanding a minimum of 5000 Rupees! (60 quid!) What a cheek! We had paid for his service, this was just a tip!! We explained to him that we had given what we could afford and that we are living on a budget! He kept on about how 'you don’t like my service???’! It was an awful position to be in. After a while he started to drive the car realizing he certainly was not getting anywhere near his apparent minimum of 5000Rs. We had no idea where he was taking us, it was scary. I thought he was gonna dump us in the middle of nowhere. Anyway he took us to the train station! Thank goodness. We got our own bags out and he drove off! So much for an emotional goodbye after 14 days traveling together! No matter how much you tip the Indians it is never enough! You will never get a thank you just a disgusted look! Once you are used to it, it becomes quite amusing!
So there we were at the station - not a clue how the Indian train system worked. It was 3pm and our train didn’t leave until 11.20pm! It was another moment of despair for me! I sobbed carrying my backpack amongst the chaos of the ticket office, no signs in English or any English speaking people! The station is in the middle of nowhere so there was no coming back later, we were there and we would have to wait for our train! Also our backpacks were attracting a lot of attention. It is a horrible feeling knowing that everyone around you wants to steal your belongings but that really is what this station was like.
Anyway Adam stayed strong for the both of us and I just fell apart wanting to go home! (I’m sure every traveler has these moments!)
We discovered what platform our train was leaving from and we went and got comfy on a bench clinging to our stuff! We drank lots of tea (served in small pottery cups which you smash afterwards!) and tried to keep warm! There are some very unsavory characters at Indian train stations after dark!
8 hours later and having officially declared ourselves train spotters our train arrived! Having watched so many come and go Ad was confident he could get us on the right carriage smoothly, and he did! Our carriage was tiny with 8 beds in it! Bunk beds but three beds high! It was an interesting night, taking it in turns to sleep. It was a very male orientated atmosphere, which was a bit uncomfortable, but I survived!
And so we arrived in Varanasi! After a dodgy auto rickshaw dropped us nowhere near where we wanted to be and a hot 30-minute walk with our backpacks we got to the main Ghats!
We are staying in a place over looking the Ganges! It is beautiful. We can sip Indian tea and watch the pilgrims washing away their sin in the river!
Our room is tiny and only has two single beds and nothing else!! There is one cold shower (communal) and we get a bucket of hot water each day! It is sooo cheap and its great!
Anyway I must go now and have some dinner! Curry! Yum! (I am actually enjoying it now!) (Although our hotel does a great version of baked beans on toast Indian style!!!)